The government just gave the corporate press £35m of your money

Boris Johnson on The Andrew Marr Show
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The economic effects of coronavirus (Covid-19) are being felt by people and businesses all over the UK. But spare a thought for Rupert Murdoch, Daily Mail owner the 4th Viscount Rothermere, Telegraph owners the Barclay brothers, and Gannett (the multi-billion-dollar US company of which one subsidiary is Newsquest, which owns dozens of local newspapers across the UK). They must have been struggling because the newspapers they own, having taken a break from bashing folk on the poverty line for ‘taking state handouts’, have grabbed a huge state handout in the form of a £35m advertising deal.

Dressing it up as an ad deal is a clever ploy.  The advertisements in question are about coronavirus, with some of them carrying public health messages. So, the government claims, this is an integral element of a vital public health campaign.

This does not wash for a few reasons.

Pull the other one

Firstly, the government has excluded independent media titles. Analysis has shown that 92% of the titles to benefit are members of the News Media Association – a powerful alliance of the wealthiest publishers currently chaired by former Sun editor David Dinsmore. Secondly, the titles which are participating (and filling their pockets with your cash) are among the least trusted. A recent survey suggested that just 14% of the public had a high level of trust in the Sun regarding coronavirus information; and few corporate titles do much better. If you were running a public health campaign with messages that you wanted the public to trust and listen to, you could surely do better than spend taxpayers’ money on a publication that so few people trust. Thirdly, the deal is targeted at print titles only, which are no longer the main way people get their information.

Strip away the nonsense, and this is a payday for the corporate press. And we are all footing the bill.

What about independent media?

That is not to say that the government should not look at ways to support the media. Quality, ethical journalism needs protecting, now more than ever – especially at the local level. And lots of titles are struggling. Targeted funding for the independent and ethically-regulated press would be sound policy. But not the corporates. The big media empires will manage just fine.

The Express and Mirror’s publisher, Reach, which also publishes dozens of local titles, may have pleaded poverty when it controversially cut journalists’ salaries by 10%. But don’t worry, it still had almost £300,000 to give out in bonuses to senior executives and has reportedly managed to swell its cash reserves by £13m over the course of the pandemic. It has also spent tens of millions in legal fees on some of the most expensive London silks in a failed attempt to deny liability for years of illegal hacking and blagging. It happily took its share of the £35m.

Independent publishers, meanwhile, got nothing. In fact, of all the initiatives announced by the government to support businesses affected by coronavirus, 95% of surveyed independent publishers said they were ineligible for all of them. It’s as if the government is happy to see independent publishers waste away, while the corporate media flourishes.

What regulation?

Perhaps most importantly for anyone who believes in fairness and social justice, independent publishers are more likely to be effectively regulated in the public interest. Such regulation is required to be independent – as recommended in the Leveson Inquiry – and in turn requires publishers to abide by ethical standards of professional practice while ensuring that media outlets are sanctioned when those standards are breached. It also protects media outlets from political interference of all kinds. There is such a regulator, IMPRESS, which includes The Canary in its membership.

In contrast, IPSO – the complaints-handler for the corporate press which is backed by the ‘News Media Association‘ – is controlled by the newspaper industry. Its standards are written by a group of newspaper editors and it is chaired by a former Conservative member of the government. IPSO effectively does no regulation at all (having carried no investigations and levied no fines in its five-year history). Of the titles which benefited from the £35m pot, hundreds were in IPSO. Virtually none were in IMPRESS.

Why this matters

Media accountability should matter to the people on the left. Independence of regulation is what makes the difference between newspapers that smear Muslims, intrude on ordinary members of the public and destroy people’s lives, and media that holds power to account and acts in the public interest. It is the difference between newspapers churning out fake news, and media that reports responsibly – and is corrected when it gets things wrong. Independent regulation still allows newspaper and news website op-eds to be partisan. They just cannot lie and get away with it.

So the government isn’t just topping up the bank balances of the wealthiest titles; it is also pursuing a policy of rewarding unregulated titles responsible for fake news and press abuse, while shafting those which are regulated independently. The left has a proud history of standing up for press freedom and accountability. During the last Labour leadership election, for example, dozens of leading MPs and supporters from across the party co-signed an open letter calling for the new leader to continue the party’s stance on independent regulation and part two of the Leveson Inquiry.

It’s essential that we keep fighting to ensure the government is held to account for policy which rewards unethical journalism and punishes media outlets that do the right thing.

Featured image via BBC screenshot

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

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  • Show Comments
    1. Well they do have to pay back the billionaire owners of these rags for getting them elected. All that’s left now is throw a few knighthoods and create a few lords for the BBC board and impartial presenters like Laura Kuenssberg Andrew Marr and their ilk and its job done. Probably a place in the lords for our friend and all round nice bloke who’s sorted out Brexit, Nige the defender of the people Farage, just because he has helped the UK so much and nothing to do with electoral pacts.

      I gave up buying papers 20 years ago when they descended in to the gutter. Today they are little more than the propaganda wing of the elites and their purpose is to convince the sheeple that read them to keep the status quo of theft and deceit going.

      To become a “investigative reporter” all you need are cut and paste skills and be a good stenographer. Sometimes they don’t even bother to correct the spelling mistakes in the Tory press briefings before they publish. The MSM in this country is nothing other than a joke, they treat people as stupid and do all they can to keep them that way by convincing them that politics is really about how popular the leaders of the parties are and how they look, it’s just another Xfactor/big brother contest.

      Just look how the party that said no to another brexit referendum then turned the next general election into another referendum !! And how the MSM did nothing except help them win.

      Put a monkey wearing a blue rosette up for election and the MSM would support it, after all we do have a chimp in charge of our government, backed up by a baboon ! Cummings and de pfeffel Johnson !!

      NO SLUR INTENDED TO PRIMATES !!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Well written article about the latest move by the Eton Gang to purloin funds from the public’s purse.
      Trusted liars have the qualtiy of loyalty in the animal kingdom I suppose for those born to rule as fools.
      Clever civilized baboons who never bar their teeth in public.

    3. Thank you for this article. I learnt quite a lot from it. Perhaps most important was the two bodies supposedly responsible for the press, IPSO and IMPRESS, are very different. It appears that the former is a useless figurehead while the latter, for the independent press, works. We need to have IPSO replaced by an independent body similar to IMPRESS or perhaps the remit of IMPRESS could be extended to all newsprints.

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